3.24.2012

My Tribute to Evernote: A Student's Guide

Every once and a while something comes along that causes me to wonder: Why isn't everyone using this (or something like it)?

I look around college classrooms and libraries I find people using the usual suspects of programs:  MS Word and Pages.  I use Pages too, but it's only really good for the final composition of a paper, and it's a terrible research and note taking tool (it's a word processor, not a note taking tool).

I've come to the point where nearly all my studies are done with Evernote.  I know there are are a ton of other programs out there (like Zotero, Scrivener, OneNote etc...) and this is not to say that those aren't good programs (I use Zotero with Amazon.com to make bibliographies super easy - but Zotero's note taking tool feels tacked on), but I just happen to use Evernote, heavily.  If you're a student and you are not using something like Evernote, you are probably missing out on being more productive and doing better work.

Evernote is not perfect and I've had some issues with it:
  1. Copying straight from Word/Pages documents to Evernote is often messy and far from perfect, especially when editing or adding content.  This is at its most annoying when teachers send out rough notes for the class.
  2. The text editor itself is far from perfect (this is not a word processor!).  
    • Bullets and numbers sometimes act funny
    • Table tools are too simplistic  
    • Sparse amount of fonts
    • No highlighting options
  3. There is a monthly data limit when syncing, although, to be fair, I've rarely come close to meeting my limit (even when syncing stacks of pdf's).
However, the positives (after the break) far outweigh the negatives.
So, let's get started!


Class Notes

This is the bread and butter of what Evernote can do.  Everyone has a different system for organizing, but I've found that using a folder per semester, a notebook per course and a note per class works very well.  Any files available from the profs can go into that days note:
Left: Folders (mainly) by semester with course notebooks in each.
Right: Course notes separated into topics or class


Remember, everything is searchable from within each notebook (or throughout all of Evernote), so rather than opening numerous Pages windows with your various class notes, you have one unified program where everything is immediately accessible - spanning all classes.







Tags


Tags are a great way to keep everything organized, and tagging done well over a long period of time can have tremendous benefits, so start tagging everything early!  Tagging your material will make life so much easier in the long run.


For example, if I have a section in an assignment that I'm devoting to the "Bridegroom" (and I did once!), it would be slow to go through each note I've created to find out if Bridegroom is discussed.  Instead, if I've been tagging all my notes as I've been writing or reading, I can select "Bridegroom" from my tags and only the relavent material will come up.  If this practice is continued you will start to hit stuff from previous assignments, classes and book notes that you may have forgotten about!!  This means you remember everything, even the things you've forgotten!

Lists and Checkboxes

Evernote's checkbox feature can be used for todo lists, assignments and to compile sources that may be useful in an assignment.


Everything in the Same Place

My main reason for using Evernote is that everything can be put into my notes and notebooks.  Stray notes or files located else where on a computer will only be forgetten.  At the end of the day everything should be accessible from one source.

For assignment and projects I use a scanner liberally!  Scanning all (within reason) the relevant material possible.  Typically libraries have scanners available, this is great for a number of reasons:  Scanning is usually free, the pdfs become part of your Evernote notebook, the pdfs are searchable and "taggable", so it's easy to find whatever needs to be found!  No Paper!  It's a game-changer!

If you're the type who cares, you may want to look into your legal rights for copying research materials.  Since all places are different I can't say what they are, but it's my impression that generally, as long as you don't distribute to other students/servers, you should be able to scan most of what you need.  

Creating a note for each PDF file helps keep track of what sources you have available.

When files get placed into Evernote they get stored there, and you can open them from within Evernote.  This means that you can delete the original file, if you want.  All the files I have stored in the program I open from the program, that way any changes I make and save are automatically saved within Evernote, and are immediately synced.  This works particularly well when annotating PDF files.

Annotating PDFs

Another reason PDFs are so great in Evernote is that PDF's can be annotated!

Evernote itself will not annotate PDFs, but it is not hard to do.  It's important to open up the PDF within Evernote by (instruction are for a mac): 
  • Right-click the PDF in the note editor
  • select open with..., 
  • choose your PDF viewer/annotator of choice (I use Preview)
  • Read and annotate away
  • When you're finished, save.
The saved version automatically saves into Evernote and is synced.  If you did the same process, but opened the original file (e.g. from your desktop) you would have to delete the Evernote version of the PDF then reinsert the updated PDF.  The above way is so much easier!!
After annotating, if you need to interact with the article further you can do that by typing below the PDF or creating a new note.

Linking notes

Linking notes can help you do some cool things.  In the example below I had to take some extensive notes on a book.  I separated my notes into the book chapters then after each chapter was finished added a link to a note I labelled named "table of contents" with a quick guide to each chapter. (The note starts 001 so that it appears at the top of my list)


Here is a Table of Contents - On the left are my notes for each chapter and on the right is my ToC with a quick overview of each chapter

Templates


Templates can be a good way to make sure you do everything correctly the first time.  While Evernote does not provide templates as an official option, it is easy enough to make a template notebook where the "notes" function as templates. A right-click in the note menu will allow you to easily copy that template note into an other notebook.  Re-title the duplicate template, tag and you're set, with your original still in the template notebook.

Websites


I do not use the internet much for research, but there are some publications that I have subscriptions to that allow me to search and read from their entire archive, so I do use it occasionally.  Evernote has a web-clipping tool that works great in these cases and it's available for most web browsers (The chrome version - the only version I've ever used - is great!)